The best thing about fall isn’t changing colors or changing clothes. It’s the thinning of summer crowds in parks and backcountry trails that leave behind a landscape conducive to crowd-shy wildlife. But that’s not the only reason fall is prime time for wildlife viewing. The shifting winds also mean more animals are on annual migrations, from birds winging in coordinated flight patterns across the country to pronghorn antelope heading to winter ranges in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to whales swimming along ocean coasts.
Many animals are heading to breeding grounds, like salmon muscling their way up rivers to spawn, while others are packing on calories for the cold season to come. The most spectacular example of the convergence of these two annual miracles, and maybe North America’s most coveted wildlife viewing experience, is watching grizzlies fish for salmon in the spawning streams of Alaska. The most reliable and photogenic place to do it is Katmai National Park.
Rather than a quick look and short hike back to the lodge, several Alaska tour operators offer immersion-style experiences that bring visitors—and you really do feel like an outsider here—into bear country for extended periods. That kind of contact, experts say, is key to helping us see bears not as Revenantial predators that maul movie stars at any opportunity, but as integral parts of an intact ecosystem.
“Part of our guides’ mission on the Wild Alaska Grizzly Encounter is to help travelers get that deep understanding of what bears are like: behavior, psychology, life cycle, how they sustain themselves and why the pristine ecosystem we’re visiting is the perfect place where they can be so healthy,” says Wendy Redal of Natural Habitat Adventures, which runs bear viewing trips throughout the fall in Katmai. millennial
[$9,495 + air; nathab.com]Learn More
Hungry for more? Check out these guided wildlife outings. They’re certified click bait.
These Guided Wildlife Outings Will Strain Your Shutter Finger
The reintroduction of wolves to America’s oldest national park is one of the greatest re-wilding stories in history— but they can still be hard to spot. Yellowstone Wolf Tracker was founded by a pair of wildlife biologists who worked on the Yellowstone Wolf Restoration Project at its inception. They guide wolf treks through the expansive Lamar Valley and lesser-known parts of the park.
[Day trips from $700; wolftracker.com]Get it
The multiday Being Bear experience is based out of Heather Mountain Lodge, the only lodge on British Columbia’s storied Rogers Pass on the doorstep of Glacier National Park. It’s led by internationally renowned bear expert Reno Sommerhalder. He’s logged more than 15,000 brown and black bear encounters around the world—all of them peaceful.
[$1,461; heathermountainlodge.com]Learn More
Arizona-based WINGS takes birders on a 12-day tour of the sandstone canyonlands of Utah and Arizona. Golden eagles, prairie falcons, sage grouse and dozens of other birds are the quarry. Good shooters carry telephoto lenses; smart ones pack tripods.
[Fall Migration in the Canyonlands, $4,500; wingsbirds.com]Learn More
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